OPINION: If you doubt how influential Elon Musk is in this company, just watch what will happen with the “Edit Button”. If the button becomes a reality, Elon would have cemented his role as the de facto leader of the blue bird company, writes Wesley Diphoko.
“First full day as Twitter COO tomorrow. Task #1: undermine CEO, consolidate power” tweeted Dick Costolo on his first day as the chief operations officer at Twitter in 2009. The joke became a reality just after a year it was tweeted as he became the CEO to replace Ev Williams.
When Elon Musk bought 9.2% of Twitter shares he became the majority shareholder, the de facto CEO and possibly the leader of the most important revolution on the internet. All that might sound bizarre until you understand what has been happening at Twitter not just this week but a couple of years ago.
The current CEO at Twitter, Parag Agrawal, replaced someone who was a co-founder at Twitter, Jack Dorsey. Before he stepped down some investors were unhappy about his lack of focus. Dorsey was also the CEO of his other start-up, Strip,e now known as Block, a fintech company that also needed his attention.
He fuelled their anger by suggesting during his Africa visit that he was considering moving to one of the African countries. Since then, there was never been peace at Twitter.
One investor, Elliott Management Corp, set aggressive goals for the company that Dorsey was not close to the meeting: growing its user base by 100 million people, accelerating revenue growth, and gaining market share as a digital advertiser. It is suspected that this is just one of the reasons why Jack Dorsey stepped down beside his mission of focusing on his blockchain company, Block.
Dorsey was replaced by someone who served in his executive team as the chief technology officer, an engineer at heart, and not a businessman. This left a leadership vacuum at Twitter which gave rise to the ascendance of Musk to the leadership of the company.
Now that he’s in the boardroom the situation is more complicated than it was before as the chairperson at Twitter is also a co-CEO of another tech company, Salesforce. That company happens to be the company of another powerful tech leader, Marc Benioff. The CEO is under the leadership of some of the world's most powerful people in tech. If he was under pressure before when Jack Dorsey left, he is now inside a hot frying pan, as he is expected to deliver on Elliott aggressive goals.
Twitter has been lacking quality leadership to turn the important platform into a money-making machine while serving as the megaphone of the world.
All this creates fertile ground for someone as competent in tech and business-like Musk to undermine the role of the CEO. He did not even waste time to make his presence felt by sourcing the Twitter community's view on the hot button issue of the “Edit Button”.
If you doubt how influential Musk is in this company, just watch what will happen with the “Edit Button”. If the button becomes a reality, Elon would have cemented his role as the de facto leader of the blue bird company.
Such a change will form only part of a small impact by the man whose mission is to move human society from planet Earth to space.
His long-term goal is to turn Twitter into what Blaine Cook described as a backbone for online chatter, one that would allow its users to freely exchange messages with people on other social media platforms instead of locking them into conversations among themselves.
In other words, turning Twitter into a decentralised protocol.
Twitter is working on this vision. The blue bird company is funding an independent effort, BlueSky, to build a so-called open protocol for social media.
The mission is to develop and drive the adoption of technologies for open and decentralised public conversation. The group behind this effort is working towards creating a social networking ecosystem where users have a choice in their experience, creators have control over relationships with their audiences, and developers have the freedom to build.
There are also efforts at Twitter that are aimed at weaving cryptocurrency into its app, and opening up to developers who want to build custom features for Twitter.
The process of decentralising the social media service will radically shift online power, moving it into the hands of users, and pose a fundamental challenge to the walled gardens of companies like Facebook.
This is ultimately what Musk wants to achieve at Twitter. If this becomes a reality, it would be good for social media. It would also make Twitter the most important part of the internet.
The mission is to develop and drive the adoption of technologies for open and decentralised public conversation. The process involves creating a social networking ecosystem where users have a choice in their experience, creators have control over relationships with their audiences, and developers have the freedom to build.
Although some of this work is under way at Twitter, leadership by Musk will fast forward all the efforts and before we know, it Twitter will be a different entity altogether.
When all is said and done, Elon Musk will be credited as the person who led the revolution at Twitter.
* Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of the Fast Company (SA) magazine.
** This article first appeared in the Insider.